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Leadership Weekly

Not Persuaded

Jesus' brothers said to him, "Leave here and go to Judea, where your followers can see your miracles! You can't become famous if you hide like this! If you can do such wonderful things, show yourself to the world!" — John 7:3-4

The pressure was on. Michelle was really being pushed to launch the new product in the spring and get a jump on the competition. Everything was ready--almost, but not quite. It was the "not quite" that caused Michelle to hold back and reexamine the data. By the time the product was ready to be launched in the fall, the product had required critical changes. In the end, Michelle's ability to stand firm against outside pressures ensured the viability of the product and preserved the integrity of the company.

Jesus faced similar pressures in John 7. His brothers were pushing him to go to the Feast of Tabernacles early and show off his miracle-performing abilities. Like many Jews, these brothers were looking for someone to "wow" the crowds and eventually lead the people in a rebellion against the Romans. The Feast would have been an ideal platform for launching Jesus' political career.

But Jesus could not be persuaded to become a crowd (or brother) pleaser. Jesus knew that his mission on earth was not to win fans, but to redeem people from their sin. Keeping his ultimate purpose in mind, Jesus chose to go to the festival, but in secret. In his wisdom, Jesus could not be persuaded to veer from his purpose, not even for one day of earthly glory. His choice to enter the festival quietly, instead of with a fanfare, led to a day of heated debates with his enemies and intense discussions with the crowd but no flashy miracles. By the end of the day, "many among the crowds at the Temple believed in him" (v. 31).

Regardless of the agenda others have, a leader needs to stand firm and keep her goal in focus. Leaders with integrity know that they cannot allow themselves to be persuaded to cave in to people-pleasing or glory-grabbing decisions. Pursuing integrity may not always be the popular or easy path, but it usually proves to be the wiser path.

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Spell It Out

Jesus used many similar stories and illustrations to teach the people as much as they could understand. In fact, in his public ministry he never taught without using parables; but afterward, when he was alone with his disciples, he explained everything to them. — Mark 4:33-34

The fine, the deep mid, the silly, the short square, the leg slip, the gully . . . If one is not familiar with these terms, he will find himself in the wrong place at the wrong time and will certainly lose the game of cricket for his team. Where would one learn the terminology for the game? It is readily available in the encyclopedia. But learning the terminology and actually playing the game are two different things entirely. Playing the positions well can only come from experience on the cricket field.

Jesus was a master at speaking in riddles for the public while at the same time teaching his disciples valuable lessons. He spoke with words that both taught and challenged. He taught those who could hear with faith and challenged those who were trying to trap him.

There were times, however, when even the disciples were unable to understand Jesus. Then Jesus would patiently explain everything to them in detail. Jesus knew that as the disciples gained experience in the mission field, their understanding of his parables would grow. Meanwhile, Jesus took the time to spell parables out for the disciples by defining terms or by retelling the stories more simply.

Sometimes it may seem that things would go faster if we just used shortcuts to get the task at hand over and done with. However, in the long run, spelling things out and bringing new people along can be more efficient than doing it all on our own. Growing people into their positions takes patience and diligence. It requires commitment to the betterment of that other person. It requires the ability to see beyond the task at hand to the value of the person at hand.

Are we as patient as Jesus was with new Christians at church, or even new people at our workplace? The patience we show to our teammates can make the difference between a weak team and a strong, maturing, effective team.

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What Kind of Fishermen?

One day as Jesus was walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers--Simon, also called Peter, and Andrew--throwing a net into the water, for they fished for a living. Jesus called out to them, "Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!" And they left their nets at once and followed him. — Matthew 4:18-20

A good leader looks for undiscovered qualities in people and provides opportunities for those qualities to become assets. The ability to nurture talent and encourage growth in others can also create deep loyalty.

One of the tasks Jesus had to accomplish in his three years of ministry was to put an effective team together that could follow through with his mission after he had ascended to heaven. One problem was that no one had ever been trained in the field of church planting. Jesus had to pick people for his team who could grow into their jobs. His ability to see potential in people brought twelve very different men together.

How did Jesus persuade the disciples to join him? No begging, no buttering up. Jesus did not give the disciples false hope or exaggerate their potential. He simply told them that they would remain fishermen but that the bait and the catch would be much more significant.

Scripture tells us that Andrew and Peter responded immediately to the offer Jesus made. They faltered and fell along the way but always got back up and continued to follow Jesus. History records that they were loyal to Jesus unto death. Jesus called them away from an unexciting, common existence to a compelling and challenging career. The disciples could not have envisioned themselves as part of future earth-changing events, but Jesus knew exactly how they would be used to further his kingdom. Jesus had a vision and he invited simple men to step out of the common and into something completely new. That invitation made all the difference for the disciples and for the world.

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Synchronized Harmony

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard. — John 16:13

While hiking in the lower elevations of the Alps, I saw small white clumps of sheep darting back and forth in the distance. Suddenly, among all the white spots I noticed a black border collie tenaciously herding the sheep. At first glance it appeared that the border collie was running randomly, chasing the flock around. It appeared that he was simply wearing the sheep to exhaustion. Upon closer examination, I noticed a man with a walking stick perhaps as far as half a mile away paying close attention to the collie. How was the collie receiving its directives from this shepherd? I stood very still and listened. Soon I heard a faint whistle: sometimes short, sometimes long, one high tone, one low tone. With every tone the collie changed his tack. I thought, He hears the whistle and knows it is his master's call. He has learned what each tone means and what his next move should be. He is completely synchronized with his master. The master and the collie worked in perfect harmony to lead and protect the shepherd's flock.

Unless we have our ears pricked high, we may very well be simply running our people and ourselves to a frazzle. Listening for the faint voice that directs our tactics and guides our words is absolutely essential. We may think that just plowing through will get things done more efficiently, but we are called to be in synchronized harmony with the Spirit. He will relay to us all we need to direct his people. Though there may be times when we aren't certain of the path, we can be certain that the Spirit is with us and directing us. We need only listen and obey when we hear. How well do you recognize the Shepherd's voice? How closely do you listen for the Master's whistle?

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A Credible Identity

For I know where I came from and where I am going . . . I am not alone. The Father who sent me is with me. — John 8:14, 16

There is nothing more attractive than a confident leader. "I know who I am, I know where I'm going, and I know how to get there," are statements that exude certainty and vision. But the most critical issue for confident leaders is whether or not they have the right to be confident. Do they have credibility? Credibility is related not to the amount of confidence one exudes but to one's past résumé of achievements. Credibility answers the question, "What is the caliber of the people who have already placed their trust in you?"

By the eighth chapter of the Gospel of John, Jesus had fed thousands, healed multitudes, taught the scholars, and forgiven sinners. Still the Pharisees were compelled to challenge the credibility of Jesus. Fully aware of the agenda of the lawyers he was facing, Jesus nevertheless stated that he was sent by the Father and that the Father stood with him in his claims. He used language that forced them to make a choice about him.

The words Jesus spoke resonated with some and offended others. But they all understood him. Jesus knew that regardless of his resume, regardless of his Father's support, some would be dead set on opposing him.

Interestingly, Jesus did not focus long on those who rejected his call to redemption. Instead, he turned to those who did believe and encouraged them: "Jesus said to the people who believed in him, 'You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free'" (v. 31).

Jesus' dialogue with the Pharisees served not simply to defend his credibility, though he was impressively successful in doing so. His statements primarily called some to saving faith. He then encouraged them to press on toward the freedom that comes from being pulled out from under the condemnation of the law that they knew so well. Jesus never allowed personal pride to interfere with the redemption of one heart. He never allowed the defense of his reputation to take precedence over his overall purpose: to bring sinners home.

Confidence and credibility are useful tools to have in carrying out leadership functions. They certainly affect our effectiveness in guiding people to Jesus. But they must be driven by a passion for others to experience spiritual freedom in Jesus Christ. Jesus calls us to be completely available for his service in this grand purpose.

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Distractions

When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had arrived, they came and started to argue with him. Testing him, they demanded that he show them a miraculous sign from heaven to prove his authority. — Mark 8:11-13

When he heard this, he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, "Why do these people keep demanding a miraculous sign? I tell you the truth, I will not give this generation any such sign." So he got back into the boat and left them, and he crossed to the other side of the lake.

"I can't seem to get anything done. I spend most of my day just putting out fires."

Do those words sound familiar? Those little "fires" can distract us from accomplishing our major goals. They seem to take up all our time, and in the end, we realize that we haven't made any significant progress all day.

Jesus was familiar with distractions. The disciples sought him out while he was in the desert praying to his Father. The multitudes hunted him down and begged for healings or bread. His family dropped in unannounced. Often Jesus consented to the requests of the people. Indeed, much of Jesus' ministry centered on meeting the real needs of people. He willingly provided food, healing, or forgiveness. What may have appeared to be distractions were, in fact, vital parts of Jesus' ministry.

Still, there were times when Jesus flatly refused to be interrupted. When the Pharisees demanded signs after they had witnessed countless miracles, Jesus simply said no. Certainly the powers of Jesus were boundless. He could have complied with the requests of the Pharisees. But Jesus had set boundaries to his ministry. He came for the sick and the imprisoned. He came for the poor and the weak. He came for those who would believe. Knowing that his ministry on earth had limited time, he focused on those activities that proved fruitful.

Do we have the resolve to stay focused on the big picture? Are we able to say no to activities that will prove fruitless or people who are simply distracters? At the same time, are we sensitive to the little interruptions of the day that are really part of our calling? The choices before us require wisdom that only comes from God.

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Dark Valleys

Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me. — Psalm 23:4

Life in general is filled with highs and lows, but it can especially be apparent for those in Christian ministry leadership positions. Just look at how many pastors, youth ministers, and worship directors eventually leave ministry. The work wears on a person. The constant complaints of doing too little of this or too much of that can drain anyone. As a leader, you are expected to be there for everyone at every moment of the day. No one is able to be there at all times. Still, guilt fills the mind and causes you to doubt your ministry and your effectiveness.

Yet, we are not left alone in this world. Through the darkest valleys of life, through the most difficult times of ministry, God is with us. As we lead his people, we can rest knowing that God leads us. When things get tight, the problems don't seem to go away, and we struggle with guilt--the false guilt of not being able to be there for everyone--God will comfort us. He shields us even during the assaults of bitter people and harsh words. He will always lead us in a path meant to protect us and keep us strong.

When the road is dark and tough, God will guide and protect you. When you feel overwhelmed with loneliness, the Lord is close beside you. When your heart is asking hard questions and you feel beaten down, God will sustain you. We don't need to live in fear, for God is always with you. He is willing to comfort and protect you. He guides you through every mountain and valley of life. He is your true Leader/Shepherd. And the more you trust him as Lord, the more you will experience the wonder of having a Shepherd.

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A Child Shall Lead

In that day the wolf and the lamb will live together; the leopard will lie down with the baby goat. The calf and the yearling will be safe with the lion, and a little child will lead them all. — Isaiah 11:6

This is a captivating image--a wolf and a lamb, a leopard and goat, a calf and lion. All of them together, sharing one location. But, the most amazing part of all is that a little child will lead them. Not the strong adult. Not the eloquent speaker or elegant host--a little child. Sit and think about that for a while. A little child will lead them.

Why a little child? Wouldn't it be better to have someone with more experience and strength? After all, there are a lot of animals to deal with and guard. How would a little child be able to handle everything? Why a little child?

Children provide something that adults lost long ago: innocence. They aren't tarnished by the criticisms of the world. They delight in the simple things and possess a peace that we can only dream about. They also trust wholeheartedly that they are cared for and loved. There is no doubt. Children are important to God. In Matthew 18:3 we read: "[Jesus] said, 'I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven.'" In order to enter the kingdom, a person needs to be like a child--pure, innocent, humble, and trusting. Only a little child has the trust and innocence to lead them all.

Take a look at your life. Are you like a little child? Do you humbly trust God for your every need? Are you in a leadership role? How do you lead? Do you lead trusting that people are able to handle tasks? Are you humble enough to admit when you are wrong? Humility is one of the toughest aspects of good leadership. It's hard to admit when we don't know something--we don't want people to think less of us. God tells us to put those fears behind and trust him. Only a true leader will emerge, if she becomes like a child and allows God to use her.

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